Getting to know the radicals

John Milios

Who are the people that might be in charge of Greece in 2015?? The UK Guardian has done a portrait piece on one of the chief economic advisors within the SYRIZA party that may be in government by 2015. John Milios is an economics professor and influential figure in the development of economic policy and strategy for the opposition party.

If the Athenian parliament fails to elect a new head of state by 29 December, the Greek constitution demands that snap polls are called. The ruling coalition’s narrow majority has made it unlikely that the government’s candidate, Stavros Dimas, will get the presidency. With the radicals in the ascent, Milios and his fellow Marxists are likely to take the reins of the EU’s weakest economy.

There are few who do not believe that the insurgents will win even if their time has not yet come. After five years of catastrophic austerity Greeks are baying for change. “The people created us,” says Milios. The alliance has seen its electoral ratings surge from 5% before the country’s economic meltdown to 27% in mid-2012. “We have no other option. Every day the situation gets worse. We have to stay calm and deal with it.”….

“Everything we will do is in the context of staying in the eurozone,” says the mild-mannered Milios, rejecting any suggestion Syriza policymakers would willingly opt out. “The government has launched a fear campaign to terrorise Greeks into thinking the worst but in reality nobody believes all this talk about Grexit any more. [Angela] Merkel herself has said it is impossible for any country to leave.”

And therein lies Syriza’s secret: a high-stakes game of poker that makes the brinkmanship over presidential elections look tame. After almost five years of reinforcing the Greek economy with €240bn in rescue funds, the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund may not like what the leftists represent, but the radicals are clearly gambling it is not they who will blink first. Too much sweat, they say, has been expended on the biggest bailout in financial history for the project of monetary union to fall apart now. “Because if any country leaves the eurozone that is what will happen,” says Milios. “Greece, in its weakness, is actually very strong.”

See full article here

A rotten regime enters its last stinking days

Haikalis

The last ditch attempts of the Samaras-Venizelos government to save itself and the Troika project are now horribly exposed by fresh corruption allegations of attempted vote buying in the Presidential election. This time there is video evidence of the alleged deal going down, and its a real, real bad look.

The Press Project (see full report here) notes that:

Independent Greeks MP and former actor Pavlos Haikalis told Antenna TV station that he was offered €3 million in installments, a settlement of his bank loans and advertising contracts to vote in the presidential election for the coalition government’s nominee for president, Stavros Dimas.
“They offered me €700,000 cash as a first installment and a settlement of my bank loans and advertising contracts,” he said.

“They were offering 2 to 3 million to vote for president,” he continued, adding that he has already testified to prosecutors over the claim.

In a press conference after Haikalis made public his allegation, the Independent Greeks said the middleman, who attempted the bribe, worked for Deutsche Bank and for a Greek Bank.

Press reports later identified the man (link in Greek) as one Giorgos Apostolopoulos.

Haikalis said that he held two meetings with the middleman and that both were recorded. Visual and audio evidence has been handed to prosecutors, he said. The Independent Greeks said Haikalis informed the prosecutor on December 6

However, according to the Independent Greeks leader Panos Kammenos, state prosecutor Isidoros Doyiakos has denied earlier reports that his office had issued an announcement that it could not confirm Haikalis’ claim after conducting an extensive investigation.

Government spokesperson Sofia Voultepsi said the allegations were ‘a badly staged charade’ and hinted at legal proceedings if the bribery evidence doesn’t stack up.

Haikalis made his claim public via telephone, confirming earlier comments by popular actor and stand-up comedian Lakis Lazopoulos who revealed on the TV show that an attempt had been made to bribe Haikalis.

Lazopoulos said he not only heard about it,  but that he also witnessed it happen.

Lazopoulos claimed he knew of another MP that accepted a bribe to vote in the election.

“During a conversation with  another MP. I understood that, not only an attempt was made, but he accepted the bribe,” Lazopoulos said.

Stavroula Xoulidou, an Independent Greeks MP  also claimed a few weeks ago on Greek TV that she was offered ‘€2 or 3 million’ by a cadre of ruling New Democracy to “solve her financial problem” and  appeared before a Supreme Court prosecutor to explain her allegation.

The claims by Haikalis and Xoulidou follows a court investigation launched in October when a senior ranking member of main opposition Syriza referred to a media report that alleged that businessmen, linked to the government, had created a special fund to bribe lawmakers to vote for the coalition’s nominee for president.

Bloomberg – EU Can’t Tell Greeks How to Vote

Juncker

Mark Gilbert from Bloomberg news agency has castigated the EC President Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU itself for the outrageous comments this week that have been a direct challenge to the basic tenets of democracy – the right of a people to choose their government and for others to respect that choice.

A disturbing feature of how the European Union sometimes conducts itself is a basic lack of respect for basic tenets of democracy. Comments this week from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker suggest yet again that the leaders of the grand unification project are tenured autocrats more concerned with their own livelihoods than the needs of the citizens they purport to represent.

Juncker, mired in controversy over the tax havens Luxembourg offered to big companies during his tenure as Prime Minister, appeared in a TV debate on Austrian television Thursday night. He was asked about current turmoil in Greek politics, where Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is fighting for his political life against Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party, which opinion polls suggest will win power if a snap election happens early next year:

I’d prefer if known faces would show up again in Greece. I’m sure the Greeks, who don’t have an easy life, know very well what a wrong election result would mean for Greece and for the euro area.

Sorry, but there’s no such thing as a “wrong” election result in a modern democracy. If the Greek people choose to elect Tsipras, they’ll be backing his plan to renegotiate Greece’s debt burden by stiffing its creditors, and to ease back on economic austerity. And that’s their prerogative, regardless of whether Juncker likes the idea or not, and regardless of whether Juncker regards Tsipras as an “extreme” force.

Back at the start of the euro crisis, the then Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou threatened to hold a referendum that would have given voters a say in whether they agreed with the country’s looming economic austerity program. His democratic impulse was effectively quashed by Germany and France, who insisted that any vote focus on the Armageddon scenario of Greece leaving the euro.

In an off-the-record briefing with a very senior EU official around that time, I asked what was wrong with asking the Greek people whether they assented to austerity. “Because they might give the wrong answer,” was the reply.

Juncker’s comments on Greek politics are an outrage. More importantly, they suggest that he sees bullying and scare-mongering as legitimate tactics — yet more evidence, if it were needed, that Juncker is the wrong person to lead the European project at this troubled juncture in its history.

Full article here

Tsipras – fear mongering will end with austerity and renegotiated debt

Synedrio - Tsipras 2

Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras told Reuters he will cancel austerity policies and seek to write off a big chunk of the national debt if his leftwing Syriza party wins elections that may have to be called early next year.

“The fear-mongering of 2012 and the fear today that if Syriza comes to power in Greece Europe will be destroyed, in reality works as a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Tsipras.

“A Syriza victory will break the bad spell and liberate markets. It will create a feeling of security.”

Highlights from the interview:

DEBT WRITE-OFF

“The IMF holds part of the debt which must be paid off, the debt owned by the ECB .”

“On the institutional debt to the ESM and the”‘Negotiation’ means that we want an agreed solution,” he said, adding that he would not move “unilaterally” unless forced to, which was unlikely. “We are prepared for a substantial and tough negotiation. And therefore, we are aware that European partners are likely to have a tough stance in the initial phase, although we won’t demand something unrealistic.”

“On the institutional debt to the ESM and the euro zone, a debt of about 200 billion euros: we must find a way for it to be restructured, a big part of it to be cut or erased, as it happened with Germany in 1953, in a moment of solidarity.”

“The private debt has already been cut and therefore Greececannot be a risk for markets, given that no one seeks a new private debt haircut.”

With part of the debt written off, Tsipras said he would revise Greece’s mid-term budget plan and seek to reduce debt servicing costs significantly while maintaining a primary budget balance (in other words, net of interest repayments).

Under the current bailout plan, Greece is committed to a much tougher target of achieving a primary budget surplus of 4.5 percent of GDP by 2016.

He said he would seek to bring debt servicing costs to below 2 percent of GDP. By comparison, last year Greece spent 5.7 billion euros, equivalent to 3.2 percent of GDP on interest rate payments.

REFORMS

As well as restructuring the debt, Tsipras promised a “national plan of growth and reconstruction”, reversing cuts to the minimum wage, freezing state layoffs and halting state asset sales, while maintaining budget discipline.

“We will implement our programme irrespective of the progress of the negotiations.”

He pledged to keep Greece in the euro: “This is not only my commitment. It should be a commitment of all governments and leaders on a eurozone level.”

“‘Negotiation’ means that we want an agreed solution,” he said, adding that he would not move “unilaterally” unless forced to, which was unlikely. “We are prepared for a substantial and tough negotiation. And therefore, we are aware that European partners are likely to have a tough stance in the initial phase, although we won’t demand something unrealistic.”

He said Europe had a moral obligation to negotiate with Syriza if it was elected: “I think the dilemma of European partners will not be only economic dilemma, it will be an ethical dilemma.”

“If they will not cooperate with the next government of Greece, this will be a strong message that they don’t accept democracy. So I think that they will not take this decision, they will be obliged, even though they have other intentions, to cooperate with the next government.”

Full report here

Troika and Greece – colonial treatment and debt servitude

An article published by the English paper The Daily Telegraph on December 10, argues that recent events have rudely exposed the illusion that Greece’s people will submit quietly to a decade of colonial treatment and debt servitude. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is International Business Editor of The Daily Telegraph. He calls its the way he sees it, and he has seen a great deal. He has covered world politics and economics for 30 years, based in Europe, the US, and Latin America. Excerpts from the article and weblink to the full article.

As matters stand, it is more likely than not that a defiant Alexis Tsipras will be the elected prime minister of Greece by late January. His Syriza alliance has vowed publicly and persistently that it will overthrow the EU-IMF Troika regime, refusing to implement the key demands.

A view has taken hold in EU capitals and the City of London that Mr Tsipras has resiled from these positions and will ultimately stick to the Troika Memorandum, a text of economic vandalism that pushed Greece into seven years of depression, with a 25.9pc fall in GDP, longer and deeper than Europe’s worst episodes in the 1930s.

Mr Tsipras is a polished performer on the EU circuit. He can no longer be caricatured as motorbike Maoist. But the fact remains that he told Greek voters as recently as last week that his government would cease to enforce the bail-out demands “from its first day in office”……

The IMF admits in its mea culpa that Greece needed debt relief from the start. Normal rules were violated, under EU pressure, because the primary goal was to hold EMU together. The assumption was that any hint of debt restructuring for Greece risked setting off an uncontrollable chain-reaction through southern Europe.

“Debt restructuring should have been on the table,” said Brazil’s member of the IMF board, in leaked minutes from a meeting in May 2010. The loans “may be seen not as a rescue of Greece, which will have to undergo a wrenching adjustment, but as a bailout of Greece’s private debt holders, mainly European financial institutions”…..

Europe’s contractionary policies have failed on every level. The region has not regained “escape velocity” since the Lehman crisis, and is now sliding into deflation. Output is still below 2008 levels and has performed worse over the last six years than from 1929 to 1935. Debt ratios are rising across the South.

The centre-Left has proved unable to articulate any critique because of EMU’s political code of Omerta. The once great parties of European social democracy have become grim enforcers of reactionary policies, apologists for mass unemployment.

So it falls to rebels to catalyze the simmering rage. Europe’s leaders may have met their match at last in the ice-cold Mr Tsipras.

see full story here

Corruption and institutional incompetence – they call it Greek banking

bank of greece

A report in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini sheds light on the Greek banking system which has allowed wealthy individuals to rack up billions of dollars of ‘bad debt’ while at the same time they hold billions of dollars deposits with the very same banks. Many others have piled up bad debts owed by their companies and used this to shift wealth into their offshore accounts. The Greek government was still waiting for an email from the Troika on what, if anything, to do next. See below…..

A few months ago an employee at a major Greek bank who had just transferred to its newly created nonperforming loans management department noticed a very familiar name as he was going through the files of bad debtors. The name was the same as a client he knew who had large deposits with the bank.

Before his transfer to the NPLs division, the employee frequently saw clients at the branch where he worked with whom he negotiated interest rates for time deposits. At first he thought it was a mere coincidence, but he soon realized that the bad debtor and the client with the high deposits were one and the same person.

The clerk informed his superiors and a decision was immediately reached to run a search through the bank’s records for other such “coincidences.” A few weeks later the results were particularly impressive: Some 10 percent of those who were not servicing the debts they had run up at the bank also maintained large deposits there.

These are the so-called strategic defaulters, who viewed the crisis as an opportunity to avoid paying their dues. They are tactical bad debtors who are able to cover their debts but do not in anticipation of a more favorable future settlement, usually through the use of laws to benefit the financially challenged. Strategic defaulters are everywhere among us: salary workers, self-employed and of course businesspeople and corporations.

Banks now estimate that nonperforming loans have reached particularly high levels, over 35 percent of the total, but believe that the current picture also includes many strategic defaulters. As the economy improves, lenders expect the tactical bad debtors to be forced to settle their dues. At the same time they are closely monitoring the behavior of every client they consider to be suspicious, thereby reducing the scope for such strategies.

Sources from the Bank of Greece highlight the phenomenon of wealthy company owners who have allowed their enterprises to lapse into overindebtedness.

Notably, the decline in deposits from 2009 to 2013 came to some 70 billion euros, exactly the same amount as the sum of bad loans in December 2013. Officials from the credit sector estimate that out of the 30 billion euros in NPLs at the end of 2013, about 10 billion may well concern strategic defaulters, or entrepreneurs who have placed huge debt burdens on their companies and transferred a large sum of the loans they have received to their personal accounts, thereby using their firms as cash machines.

See full report here

Early Vote for Greek President by Parliament – could bring on early national elections

samarasPrime minister Antonis Samaras has called a snap presidential election by parliament in a high-stakes bid to retain power despite his failure to end Greece’s punishing €245bn international bailout, reports the Financial Times

Mr Samaras brought forward the presidential vote by two months after eurozone finance ministers concluded Greece had not completed all the reforms necessary to to obtain its last bailout payment that would bring the four-year rescue to a close.

The presidential contest — a vote by members of parliament to replace incumbent Karolos Papoulias — had been due in February, but the first round will now take place on December 17, with further polls on December 23 and 29.

Mr Samaras must find 180 votes in parliament to elect a new president but his governing coalition has only 155 MPs. If he is unable to find another 25 votes from a patchwork of independents and MPs from smaller parties, he must call a snap general election. Public opinion polls show he would lose to the SYRIZA opposition party.

A government spokesman said the decision was taken to “prevent the opposition from undermining Greece’s economy and directing messages of political uncertainty to financial markets”.

Syriza predicted that the government would fail to elect a new president, saying the snap poll was a decision “agreed with the ‘troika’ [of international bailout monitors, the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF], covering up their plans to introduce new austerity measures and blackmail MPs into voting for them”.

See Financial Times article here